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Finishing Touches

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Cleaning tack is a very important thing to do.
Not only does it keep it clean, but it also helps it last longer.

Cleaning your tack is a very important part of riding horses. It will keep it supple and help it stay safe for you to use.


It is important for every rider to take good care of their tack but Equitation riders must take extra care since rider and horse turn out is of the utmost importance and will be inspected by judges.

Every time you are finished riding, dampen the sponge (wring out excess water), swipe it on the soap and give your saddle and bridle a quick once over. This way no dirt and sweat get built up, taking your show prep from an hour to 2 minutes. This also allows you to inspect your tack every time you ride, for safety issues.

What you will need

        Mild saddle soap

        Non-detergent leather conditioner

        Small sponge


        Small bucket or bowl of warm water


        Cotton swabs (q-tips)

        Metal cleaner

        Bottle of Rubbing Alcohol

Cleaning for Horse Shows

1.   Strip the saddle of all fittings and undo any buckles.

2.   Place stirrup irons in a bucket of warm water along with the rubber stirrup iron pads.

3.   Clean metal first so you can clean off any metal polish that gets on the leather.  The rivets on the front of saddles and under the skirt should be scrubbed with a toothbrush and saddle soap then wiped clean with a towel.  After they have had all the grime removed the rivets should be shined with metal polish.  Don’t forget to shine the name plate on the back of the cantle.

4.   Wipe the saddle down with slightly dampened toweling to remove any loose dust, dirt and hair. Dampen the sponge in the water. You’ll want it damp but not dripping wet. Dip it in the saddle soap and work up a lather. Apply the lather to the leather. Frequently rinse and re-lather the sponge. Work in small circles covering all surfaces of the saddle; top, underside, and between flaps. Wipe the saddle a dry towel. You’ll want to remove any residual soap from the leather as soap left behind may damage the leather over time. Residual soap left in crevices and folds will also hold grit that can eat away at the leather. Use dampened cotton swabs or the corner of a towel to get all soap out of tiny stitching channels and crevices.

5.   Wipe the saddle dry. The next step is conditioning and they work best on leather that are a tad damp. Apply a non-detergent leather conditioner such as neatsfoot oil, lanolin or beeswax conditioner or one recommended by the saddle distributor. Make sure you are using real, not synthetic neatsfoot oil. The container will say something like “animal based” or "100% Pure". Apply the oil very sparingly. You don’t want to clog the pores or give dirt a place to cling to. Too much oil can soak through the leather into the padding or tree underneath and cause damage. Be aware also that some conditioners will darken the leather. If you don’t want your leather saddle to darken choose a conditioner accordingly and test in an inconspicuous place

6.   Follow the same steps of applying soap and conditioner to clean the stirrup leathers

7.   The girth should always be cleaned as part of your saddle cleaning routine. If it is a padded girth made from material then it can be brushed off with a stiff brush. Leather girths are cleaned in the same way as the saddle.

8.   Now remove the irons and stirrup pads out of the water, scrub the irons and the treads and bottoms of the pads with plain water and a toothbrush and dry with towel. When the irons and pads have all the grime removed and are dry, shine with metal polish and a dry towel.  When the irons are shined replaced the stirrup pads in the irons and lace leathers through the irons.

9.   Replace all fittings and wipe down metal with a dry towel to remove any soap or oil.


        Since glycerin soap is an oil based soap you will not need to oil your leather or use any fancy conditioner all the time, as it will be conditioned every time you clean.

        Rinsing your bit in a water bucket every day is easier than trying to scrub off three months worth of spit and slime.

        Buy some handy ready cleaners to do minor touch-ups before a show.

        Old toothbrushes are great for cleaning the small attachment crevices in your saddle and bridle. Just dip it in water, scrub some saddle soap on it and scrub with it, rinse it off, then use it or a small towel to rinse the soap off the saddle.

How to Clean a Show Bridle

Most horsemen have a thousand things to do other than clean their horse's bridle. But regularly cleaning your horse's bridle does more than just remove dirt, sand and dust. A clean and well-conditioned bridle will be easier to adjust, last long and is less likely to break and crack.


1.   Hang bridle on cleaning rack.


2.   Remove the bit completely from your bridle and detach the reins. Place bit in bucket of warm water. 


3.   Shine all buckles with your choice of metal polishes. In a circular motion rub the polish on all buckles and silver on your horse's bridle. Let it sit for a few minutes then use a clean, soft rag to buff the metal until it gleams


4.   Dip a clean sponge or rag into your bucket of warm water. Wring the rag or sponge out until it is only slightly moist, and then wipe off all surface dust and dirt from your horse's bridle.


5.   Rub the slightly damp tack sponge/rag over a bar of saddle soap until you form a little lather. Wipe the lather up and down your bridle, paying special attention to all straps, reins and attachment areas and places where grime builds up.


6.   Scrub gently, but persistently along the underside or flesh side of the bridle with a soft-bristled tooth brush. Since this side of bridle rubs against your horse's head it tends to have more build up on it.


7.   Pick grime out of the buckle holes using a dental pick. A dental pick is also a great tool for removing dirt from the edges of buckles and you can scrape stubborn sweat and grime from the flesh side of leather using the flat edge of the pick.


8.   Massage an even layer of leather conditioner into the flesh side of your horse's bridle. The flesh side is more porous and will absorb the conditioner better. Apply a thinner coat to the top side of the leather. You can use your fingers or a tack sponge to rub the conditioner in.


9.   Remove the bit from the bucket. Then using a toothbrush scrub around the edges and any hinges on a bit, paying special attention to any crevices where grime may still be trapped.


10. Polish the bit avoiding areas that go into the horse’s mouth. Since regular polishes are not safe for your horse to ingest and taste bad. Apply the polish as noted on the label. Some bits are not designed to be polished and it will be impossible for you to get them to shine no matter how much buffing you do. Only stainless steel bits should be polished.


11. For the brow band:  If you have white dots on the band use q tips dipped in alcohol.  Clean the dots with a circular motion.  After all dots are clean take either furniture polish, armor all or window cleaner and clean the patent leather.  Buff with a dry towel. Re-attach the bit to your bridle's cheek pieces and re-attach the reins.


        Wiping down your bridle and bit everyday will keep it from getting crusty and give your equipment a longer life. Many spray on and liquid cleansers are great for everyday cleaning, but they tend to build up on your leather. Make sure you wipe any excess cleaner off before you put your tack away


        Most new bridles and saddles come with a coating of wax on them to protect the leather while shipping. This wax can be removed with castile soap. Once you have removed the wax, you should condition the leather right away. Rub olive oil into the flesh of the leather to break it in. This will help soften the leather. Don't use other forms of vegetable oils as they can become rancid.


        Never use soap or metal cleaner on the bit! It will taste horrible to your horse.